Auckland Girmit Day hosts Fiji Minister, marks Syria
Tragedy and requests Girmit recognition
Thakur Ranjit Singh
Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand may be the only organisation of its type the sole objective of which is Reconnecting, Reclaiming and Restoring Indo-Fijian History. It has been doing just that by embarking on hosting Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day in Auckland for the last four years. This year’s (2015) commemoration was some steps closer to it meeting its objectives, where Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was the Chief Guest and Keynote speaker. The foundation requested Fiji Government to include Girmit History in Fiji’s school curriculum system. In addition, it also requested to declare 14 May as a Public Holiday to give proper homage to those ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times.
As the Master of Ceremonies called the event to order, people in the overflowing Skipton Hall, Mangere, Auckland solemnly stood up in attention. And in the pin drop silence, three National Anthems - India, Fiji and New Zealand, boomed out and floated, bumping the walls and ceiling and glided out.
The occasion was Girmit Remembrance Day, organised by Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand on 17 May, 2015. The actual Girmit Anniversary when the first Indians arrived in Fiji falls on 14 May, but event, for the last four years, is marked in the nearest weekend after this date.
This year’s event was clouded and eclipsed by the untimely death of the Foundation President, Pundit Devakar Prasad, who was planning the event on the theme of Syria tragedy. However, the committee felt that organising it the way it was planned was the best tribute to this great leader. Hence this event was held with substantial tribute to Punditji in two respects: firstly a citation on a scroll from the foundation was presented to the family. Among others, it noted his mentoring leadership, his community spirit and thanked his family for sharing him with the community.
And secondly, A Girmit Quiz, named Pundit Devakar Prasad Memorial Girmit Quiz was Mastered by his daughter, Neelima Chand, with Author Rajendra Prasad as the expert advisor. The quiz teams were appropriately named after sugar mills in Fiji: Lautoka, Ba/Penang, Labasa and Rewa. And questions related to girmit, ranging from ships of girmit, (Leonidas, Syria) the language and idioms of Girmit, (lewa, dherki, murwari, jhulni), the personality of Girmit (Hannah Dudley, C. F Andrews (Deenbandhoo), Totaram Sanadhya, Manilal Doctor, Mahatma Gandhi) and general knowledge questions, plus rapid-fire question and audience quiz question. This event was organised on the footprints of National Quiz that Devakar Prasad originated in Fiji. The purpose was to spread the knowledge of Girmit, in a fun way, while paying tribute the Maestro Quiz Master. The first event turned out to be very popular, with interesting audience quiz questions where winners were rewarded with token gifts. In the final results, Labasa Mill team, the Babasiga Lions, came out the winners to claim the inaugural quiz trophy. Congratulations, Labasa Mill team.
The other highlight was the presence of Fiji’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, as the Chief Guest and the Keynote speaker. He was accompanied by a delegation of three from Fiji on the invitation of the Foundation. It therefore was an opportune time for the Syria tragedy to be rekindled into limelight. The purpose was to have a representative of Fiji government in an event where their liberal policy of race –relations were applauded in light of humanity, cooperation and goodwill that was witnessed some 13 decades ago on a dark fateful night at a remote unfriendly raging Naselai Reef. That was the theme of Girmit Day 2015 that Acting President, Master Shiu Charan conveyed. He commended Naselai villagers who on this fateful night of 11 May, 1884 risked their own lives and courageously provided valuable and timely assistance in saving 438 lives. Without their daring intervention, loss would have been even greater.
"Unfortunately, Fijian history hasn’t resonated with such acts of ITaukei compassion and sacrifice. But we have witnessed that both the Fijians and Indo Fijians stand by for each other in times of need and disaster. Indeed, there is enormous reservoir of love, affection and goodwill between the two races that needs to be revealed, promoted and cherished.” Mr Shiu Charan said.
He paid gratitude to Bainimarama Government for enhancing a new approach in Fijian politics, promoting racial integration, equality and goodwill. The Acting President further requested Minister Kubuabola to seek permission, according to I-ITaukei protocol, from the Chiefs and elders of Naselai Village for Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand to present a plaque to them in recognition of their compassion and kindness and as a thanksgiving gesture. When permission is granted, delegation from the Foundation in Auckland would make that pilgrimage to Naselai Village and that fateful reef.
|The Minister (in the middle) with Rajendra Prasad and another former parliamentary colleague from Fiji, Sardar Harnam Singh Golian.|
A sample plaque and letter of request was given to the Minister in this regards and the Minister responded very positively in his keynote address.
“I am pleased that the organisers have chosen this focus, not so much to dwell in the tragedy of that event, but more importantly to highlight the face of hope and compassion that surfaced from it.”, Minister Kubuabola said. He commended Master Shiu Charan for his tribute to the villagers of Naselai, and expressed sorrow at bias of history which failed to highlight such positive stories which were often lost in accounts that gave much credit and praise to the colonial masters while others were only mentioned in passing.
He applauded the plan of the Girmit Foundation to present a plaque to the people of Naselai, the descendants of those who risked their lives to rescue the survivors of the wreck.
“This noble gesture would appropriately recognise a significant historical event and at the same time serves as a reminder of the humanity, compassion and goodwill that prevailed in a most tragic circumstance. It confirms that the goodness within us transcends boundaries, and therein lies our hope,” the Minister said. He added that he was hopeful that the gesture of the Foundation would help contributing promotion of better understanding and goodwill amongst the different communities that make up our multicultural Fiji.
In reply to the keynote address, the Trustee of Girmit Foundation, author of ‘Tears in Paradise” Rajendra Prasad, thanked the Minister for his kind words and congratulated the Minister and the Bainimarama Fiji First Government of forging a new hope for all the citizens of Fiji, with equality, fairness and social justice for all. He alluded to the fact that the biggest issue with lack of knowledge on Girmit was because the History is always written from the viewpoint of victor and history of Fiji Indians have been stolen. To correct this anomaly, the Foundation requested Minister for his government to consider including Girmit History in Fiji’s education curriculum, and to declare 14 May, the anniversary of arrival of first Indians to Fiji, as a Public Holiday. These would not only create better understanding of the historical perspective, but would also be a fitting acknowledgment to those ordinary Girmitiyas who did extraordinary deeds in extraordinary times. The Minister promised to take these requests to the government.
The afternoon’s programme included Oratory and very enthralling musical programme. The oratory, where students spoke in Hindi, showed the great level that parents endeavoured in ensuring a cultured generation with pride and respect for their culture, history and heritage. There were memorable songs, especially two, performed by students of Pooja group, and written by Author of Tears in Paradise, Rajendra Prasad. One was “Aye Fiji desh ke waasi…” which is based on famous Lata’s patriotic song…”Aye mere vatan ke logo….” And the other was a Bidesia (a lament song). There were other very able singers who added colour to a commemoration and was a reflection of what heritage our Girmitiya forebears left for us.
The other highlight was an excellent collection of Girmit display items with compliments of Satya Dutt. These ranged from very old and not very old items and ‘gadgets” our rural people used during their times in Girmit and post Girmit. The unlimited and unending (”dhaka pel”) array of refreshments, supplied by Hardip Singh kept the audience fed for virtually all of the afternoon. And the free supply of kava must have given some a bit of “bite” (sensational intoxication) as well.
This was indeed an event which now has gone to an overflowing stage at the Indo-Fijian icon in Auckland - the Skipton Hall, which was provided free of charge by the Auckland Ramayan Sanstha Trust (ARST) for the last there years, in memory of those who suffered and sacrificed for our brighter future. Thanks to all who made this day a success, and we await our pilgrimage to Fiji. We also note with gratitude the decision of Radio Tarana to broadcast the whole event live from Skipton Hall, and Apna Radio and TV and Humm FM for their media coverage. [FIJI PUNDIT questions the media ethics of two so-called Auckland Indian newspapers, Indian Newslink and Indian Weekender in boycotting coverage of this important event, and perhaps it indicates that some Indians still appear to regard us as “Coolies”]
|Team Tarana which provided live broadcast of the event from Skipton Hall, interviewing National List MP, Kanwaljeet Bakshi|
Next year may see Fiji Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, gracing the annual event – this is still under planning stages.
May the blessings of our “pitra” (departed souls) - our forebears be always upon the children of Girmit. May their souls rest in peace
[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is one of the Founding Trustees and Secretary of Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand. He runs his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT which exclusively reports this event in Auckland, as the Indian Newslink and Indian Weekender decided to boycott this event, for the reasons best known to them. Girmit Foundation Acting President will take this grievance of a wanting media directly to the publications involved, while FIJI PUNDIT, as part of “Indian Media Watch” will raise the issue relating to questions in the Indian print media ethics and other issues relating to a wanting ethnic media in Auckland. FIJI PUNDIT will address it under a separate cover.]